When it comes to influencing public opinion, it's framing that counts. We do it at TriplePundit when we talk about the need for sustainable business solutions, the President does it when he lays the case for his political agenda and NGOs do it when they ask for donations. It's no surprise that the Oil and Gas Industry does it when they consider public support (or lack thereof) for natural gas development.
It's not often that one gets to take an inside peek at another organization's framing, but when you do, it's enlightening.
This PowerPoint from the recent "Media and Stakeholder Relations: Hydraulic Fracturing Initiative 2011" meeting in Houston is worth a view. The presentation, by oil industry front and astroturfers Energy in Depth, is entitled "Understanding, Responding to and Working with Environmental NGOs."
That's kind of nice isn't it? To think that this group is interested in understanding the position of Environmental NGOs. The more optimistic among you might even be thinking that the group is looking for areas of mutual understanding.
The presentation opens by explaining that there are two kinds of NGOs: those that are "solutions oriented" and those that are "committed to an ideology." That's not the way I'd make the division, but fair enough. I wonder which groups fall in each camp?!
Energy in Depth calls EDF, Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy, solutions oriented. Fair enough, I'd agree with that characterization, (although I wonder if Energy in Depth would have dropped Sierra Club since they recently took a harsh position on natural gas due to the environmental impacts of fracking.)
Where things get interesting is that NGOs I'd consider moderate and mainstream are, from Energy in Depth's perspective, crazy ideologues. You might have heard of NRDC, Friends of the Earth, Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Working Group.
According to Energy in Depth, these groups are "ideologues" because their positions on natural gas have shifted. And the reason they've shifted, according to the presentation, is because gas production and consumption have both jumped dramatically. You see, once people start making money, the NGOs are bound to have a problem with it. I'm not making this up! See slides 8-9.
What the speaker neglects to mention is that several years ago, natural gas was seen as a cleaner alternative to oil, one that could be produced at home, one with fewer emissions than coal. Call it a a bridge fuel. Many mainstream NGOs were cautiously optimistic about natural gas. That is until sloppy drilling practices led to health and environmental concerns related to groundwater contamination. As new information emerges, it makes perfect sense that NGO recommendations might shift. That doesn't make them shifty.
Energy in Depth finishes up by discussing the importance of "community engagement" for pushing through fracking projects-- certainly something the NGOs don't know anything about.
Energy in Depth thinks it's all about money for the NGOs: they saw a chance to get some funding (slides 14-15), then they "manufactured studies" and now they're "mobilizing an attack," by coercing children to carry "no fracking" signs. The final step must be profit, obviously. Well, it is for someone.
Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.